Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Touristy Tours Part 1: A Gator’s Favourite Food

Do you know what an alligator's favourite food is? No, it’s not Louisiana local, as you might think. It’s actually marshmallows. Well, to be honest, I can’t say that applies to every alligator – but the gators I got up-close and personal with in the United States were pretty happy to munch on a marshmallow or 50.

Okay, I hear your scepticism. Need proof? See exhibit A below…

This was taken in the canals and bayous just outside New Orleans, Louisiana. Although there are a hundred and one things to do in The Big Easy, it’s also worth getting out and seeing outside the beautiful but touristy French Quarter.

Despite some travelers' aversion to the organised tour – I reckon this is a great way to see the sights of a place and know you're not missing anything. For our swamp tour we were picked up in a bus from our hotel door and driven through the French Quarter and suburbans areas of New Orleans for about 40 minutes, before reaching the tour site at Marrero.
Once there we bought our ticket; there’s the low-key option of experiencing the tour on a cruise boat, where you float leisurely along the canals at a very relaxing pace. Or you can take the high-octane option of an airboat. Given my love of anything with eight or more cylinders and the excitement of a 454 Chevy on the back of a tin boat hull, I chose the latter.

Our tour guide was the real deal. He was born and bred in the Louisiana bayous and proud of it. Whilst telling us about the lives and loves of the Louisiana alligator (they mate early in spring and it's quite an achievement for a baby gator to survive to adulthood – quite often they’re eaten by their own), we also got a history of about the bayous and how devastating hurricane Katrina, and the more recent gulf oil spill, were for the region.

When we boarded the airboat and were handed our ‘optional’ (are you kidding?!?) industrial standard earmuffs, I noticed our guide packing two huge bags of marshmallows. I thought he was nuts, really. It wasn’t until we found a group of gators, who were willing to fight for a soft, fluffy marshmallow, did I actually believe they enjoyed eating them.
Ear muffs  'optional'

Please humour me while I nerd out for a minute and entertain you with some alligator facts I learnt during the tour…

Alligators have terrible eyesight. They really can’t see more than a couple of centimetres in front of their teeth. They were very fond of the lady sitting next to me, wearing a white t-shirt, the exact colour of the marshmallows.

Alligators were almost hunted to the point of extinction in Louisiana. Now, gator hunting is regulated by the government to keep numbers up. The people who live and survive on alligator farming are the only people licensed to hunt.

A bayou has an end and a canal doesn’t. I thought they were one and the same to be honest. But our tour guide informed us the famed bayous, lined with Spanish moss and thick sub tropical undergrowth, eventually come to dead ends and canals are the manmade versioned, frequented by freight barges and always flowing somewhere.

The tour was an amazing 1 hour and 40 minutes of reptilian excitement. Oh, and torrential rain. About 30 seconds after I sat down in the airboat, the heavens opened. We persisted with the tour though, and although I was soaked to the bone and had water in places that should never be wet, it was officially the best outdoor tour I’ve ever done.

What’s the best (or worst) tour you’ve ever experienced?

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